What The Air Force Wants In The T-X, Their Next Trainer

The U.S. Air Force has gotten a lot of miles out of their T-38 Talon trainer aircraft, but after more than fifty years of service, it is time for something new.  And on Mar. 20, the Air Force released their requirements for the T-X, the aircraft that will train tomorrow’s F-22 and F-35 pilots and replace the old T-38.

For those who are unfamiliar with the T-38, check out this wonderful video from the 1970s when the Thunderbirds used to fly the sleek little jet.

Although the T-38 has been modified over the years to fit the military’s needs, Brig. Gen. Dawn Dunlop, director of plans, programs and requirements at the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, says that there is a limit to upgrades. The T-38 can no loger adequately prepare pilots for modern fighter aircraft.  In a press release, Dunlop said,

Cockpit and sensor management are fundamentally different today in 4th- and 5th-generation aircraft than it was when the T-38 was built in 1961. While the T-38 has been upgraded to a glass cockpit, the inability to upgrade the T-38’s performance and simulated sensor capability presents a growing challenge each year to effectively teach the critical skills essential to today’s military pilots.

To improve on the old trainer, the Air Force has outlined over 100 requirements for the T-X but emphasizes three in particular.  The T-X must be able to preform and sustain high-G maneuvers, accurately simulate a more advanced aircraft’s capabilities, and it must be easy to maintain.

In addition to preparing pilots for the F-22 and F-35, the Air Force would also like the T-X to serve as a “red air” aircraft.  It must simulate an enemy fighter plane and do it well enough to challenge American pilots in training exercises. While this requirement was not part of those released today, funding for the “red air” T-X was included in the fiscal 2016 budget.

Several aerospace firms are submitting designs including Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and Textron Inc., according to Aviation Week.

The Air Force says it will award a contract for 350 T-Xs in 2017 and expects them to be operational in 2023.

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